Hey guys, this piece comes out of a couple of discussions I've had in other threads both here and on Gamers, as well as in the interest of helping the boards and the community get back on track. Further, its a topic I expect to address on the Sith Holo News Network show either this week or next so I won't be going into full detail about my perspective on it here necessarily. But I think it's a very interesting topic, and I think a lot can be said about it, so with that said, here we go.
For the life of SWMs, melee figures have to some degree struggled vs. Non-melee. The reason is faily straightforward if not obvious, in that melee is a restriction that doesn't come with any real benefits in most cases. Players in virtually every era of the game have made complaints about melee, and I believe most of that comes from a couple of sources of frustration. I think it important to state that this is a biased discussion leaning towards the higher costing jedi minis in general, and not cheap non-uniques like the Aqualish Assassin or the IG Lancer. After all, the issue really stems from comparisons of uniques (mostly).
1. Early game design problems. I think it's clear that Rob undervalued the restrictions that melee placed on a mini and so costing was off, as well as a lack of options on any given melee piece. There has in reality always been competitive melee pieces, but it was definately a problem early on with costing and so forth overall. For example, Emp Palpatine, Mace Windu, Yoda, Vader SL, Vader JH, etc were all quite competitive in their eras, and some are still competitive even if their roll is dimished in today's game. In particular, I believe that the early experiences still taint the opinion of a great many of us old timers to a degree.
2. Expectations of players. I believe this cannot be overlooked. The game is SWs after all which is really about lightsabers. It's probably the number one reason any complainer will site when they talk of this issue, that jedi need to be more powerful. It often comes from a less experienced player, but certainly not exclusively. And more importantly, it stems from a desire to see Jedi X be more powerful - usually the character that complainer loves the most. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this perspective, but it has to be tempered at least a little.
3. Melee recosting. Some players will challenge that this did not happen as expected, or they will argue a more nuanced position that non-melee recieved too much of a recosting as well (even if not equal to the melee changes) that did not allow melee to catch up as much as needed. Others will argue that significantly more jedi are in play than before the JWM, and clearly this is evidence of it occuring. I will state right now, I believe the recosting happened, and it's worked, but not to the degree that many people would have liked. Melee meets my expectations, but clearly not everyones.
4. Figure choices. I think this is also a key point in understanding the issue. If you look at the pieces that have been redone in the last 4-5 sets, a pattern seems to emerge. Anakin, Obi Wan, Assaj, Yoda, Vader, Luke, Kyle, etc, WotC seems interested in making sure the big names are well represented in the game competitively and casually. This isn't a new point in particular, but an essencial one that relates to the issue. It relates in this way, that I believe people unconciously ignore remakes of characters when they look at this issue, especially those that already had competitive versions of themselves present in the game. In a way, most people do not see a new Yoda as bringing a lot to the game, in the same way they see the value of a figure like the Exile. And it isn't just faction based either, for example the lack of discussion around the new Kyle, but a heavy focus on the value of a figure like Sith Maul. And in a way, I understand this. It's the same kind of point I make in regards to fringe, that it often benefits the factions who have not more than those that have, even if it doesn't tip the power scales the way some people would like. A great stated figure that has been unrepresented like the Exile brings a lot more buzz to people than a remake of yoda, even if Yoda is more likely to see competitive play. Yoda already had 2 competitive pieces for Repbulic, and 2 for Rebels before Yoda GM came out, so even though he is a great mini, and deals well with the melee-non-melee question, we've largly ignored him. Had his stats been on someone new, I think a lot more would have been said by the players.
5. Map design. I've said a lot on this issue elsewhere, but it's a critical piece. WotC has had to learn over the years that wide open maps are not great for the game, whether that be competitive play, or casual play. They work ok for some scenarios, but that's about it. In almost all eras of play when non-melee could mostly dominate, it also came with wide open legal maps.
6. Strategy, tactics and skill. This is another critical piece, and this is where the issue really crosses over from being a non-competitive issue, into a competitive one. The earlier arguments are really more non-competitive issues primarily. Melee, because of it's restrictiveness has always taken more skill to run than non-melee. That should be obvious to most. Many beginning to intermediate players jump off the band wagon at this point. They believe this to be an issue of imbalance, rather than an issue of their skill. In particular, this is an issue for players who have just gotten into competitive play, or those who might even think themselves casual, but clearly their frustration shows them to be interested more in winning than they had been earlier in their game life. At the top levels of the game, melee has done quite well for years. But in the mid levels, I think it's safe to say that many players experience non-melee as having a much smaller learning curve, and they learn to win more easily and quickly with it, which leads to their belief that the game is slanted. Continued practice and struggle will lead one to readress these issues, and they can get to a point where melee starts to compete for them rather well. But I am not sure all of these players don't hold onto some of the reservations from this time period in their game life, even though their current experiences should be telling them something else.
7. Gimmicks. The argument of top level players against melee, has often been centered around the issue of gimmicks. One might say, "Well, X, Y and Z are all competitive melee pieces" and the response is often, "Only because X has E, Y has D, and Z has F". In a sense, they are considered exceptions rather than the rule. I question this logic to a degree. I believe it has roots in the early part of the game, where melee didn't have a lot of gimmicks, and one of the ways Rob has "recosted" melee was to start giving them out more often to melee pieces. An easy example is rangeless force push/grip 4, but that is hardly the only one. What I challenge is the argument that competitive melee pieces are all about the gimmicks, but competitive non-melee peices are not. That to me is provably and patently false. I am also prepared to argue, that at least at the top levels of the game there are at least as many competitive melee pieces and non-melee pieces (perhaps more actually thanks to the plethora of 200pt Republic options) than there are non-melee. I will let others speak to the truth or failure of that argument on a more local scale, as my experience is certainly colored by what I personally can "get away with playing" locally that may not be true of others.
8. All melee vs. all range. Another common issue is that players will say, "I want an all melee squad to be competitive" and the assumption is that an all non-melee squad is competitive. I think at the lower and mid levels of casual play this is probably true to a degree. At the higher end though, all ranged squads are not dominant (barring map issues). All melee squads also have major issues at this level of play, and I would probably admit that an all non-melee squad has slightly better odds in the hands of a decent competitive player, but not exclusively however. All melee squads have made the top 8 at Gencon several times. Generally, the best squads are mixes, with interference elements, power elements, defensive elements and control elements. To me, that is the ideal for a game like this, and it represents a significant level of balance. You can overly focus on one aspect, but you do so to the detriment of another. So the squad builder has to learn to balance multiple elements of play. I like that, but it does mean that melee figures often have to offer more to a squad than simply being a roadblock. That means that gimmicks on melee become even more obvious to the players. This leads me to the next point.
9. Options. Both melee and non-melee offer various gimmicks to a squad, and the best squads are often those that are the most flexible in what they can do. The concept of what many players believe a lightsaber to be, doesn't always meld well with this reality of game play (and it's a critical piece of game play that without it, the game would break). LS characters cannot be so powerful, that they run over everything and anything like in the movies, cartoons, books and comics. But because of that, they have to be suseptible to dying (unlike movies, cartoons, books and comics). Since they are susceptible to death, its integral that they also provide another role to a squad, beyond hitting with a LS. Think for example, those of you MMORPG players, of the role of a tank. They are there to focus fire, grab the aggro and hold it, to allow the weak damage dealers and healers to do their jobs. In a well balanced game, the Tank can also do some damage, but should never be able to simply run up to a damage dealer and waste them without trying. The same applies to balance in minis. Melee pieces aren't necessarily tanks, but they do play critical roles, one of which is interference, and taking one for the team when the situation arrises. They can also be damage dealers, just like a non-melee can, but it requires careful squad building together with tactics and strategy to make it work, the same exact way a Warrior can catch up to a Mage or Theif in WoW in damage if they really learn how to do it well. I think that is where the comparison ends, however.
10. Crossing the board. This is an issue of squad building, strategy and tactics, but important enough to this discussion to have it's own category. The obvious pieces are movement breakers, and I wrote an article pre-A&E on this topic that I think still covers it well on the Holocron.net, even if it's dated. There are a ton of ways melee pieces can get there, one of which that is often overlooked is the opposite of the melee interference principle I often talk about, that i will call, "Non-melee cover fire" for lack of a better term. Just as melee can function as the "tanks", non-melee also can function as the protection to get the melee into battle. I see a lot of players miss this role. I also have talked about the principle of, "breaking some eggs" and usually referenced melee pieces taking one for the team to protect the shooters for that extra critical round of attacks. But what I have not covered well, is the opposite, but equally important role that shooters take in this concept. A good well played defensive shooter can be used to keep your melee safe as it crosses the board, and sometimes, needs to be out in the open to do it properly, sacrificing itself. Yet most players are hesitant to do so. I don't know why that is psychologically, but it seems to be almost universally true. If you are headed into a killing field with your melee pieces, get your non-melee out there to take some of the fire. They have to both be a threat, and a target in order to do so. Hiding your Dash, or your Boba BH out of los just gets your melee piece isolated. A much better strategy is to try and make your opponent make tougher choices.
Alright, with that said, let's see what you all think. Remember, we need to rebuild our community, so let's keep it on topic, open and honest, and no flaming